Thursday, March 17, 2005
LOS ANGELES - The University of California is close to putting together a team of partners for a potential bid to hold on as managers of the Los Alamos nuclear lab.
Finding a partner would be a significant step in UC's bid preparations and comes at a time when a number of potential rivals have announced they won't pursue the contract.
"They're dropping by the wayside and part of it is because they can't come up with a suitable academic partner," UC Vice President Robert Foley said as he briefed the system's governing Board of Regents on the competition status Wednesday. "Nobody does science and technology like the University of California."
UC regents haven't voted on whether to bid for the Los Alamos job, but have told staff to prepare as though they will bid.
However, Foley told regents there are potential obstacles to a UC bid, especially recent changes to the government's draft specifications that would require UC to form a special corporation to manage the lab and create a stand-alone pension system.
Los Alamos employees, who currently are covered under UC's systemwide plan, are not happy about the pension proposal, and regents' chairman Gerald Parsky said that issue will have to be resolved to UC's satisfaction.
"The employees at Los Alamos are extremely important to us," Parsky said. "We are going to be paying very close attention to making sure that their retirement, their benefits will be protected in this or we won't bid."
The government's final specifications may be released in early April; the bidding deadline will be 90 days after the release and regents may be voting on whether to bid or not in late spring.
UC has run the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico since it was formed during World War II to work on the atomic bomb. The university has also managed a second weapons lab, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Northern California since it was established in 1952.
For decades, the government extended UC's contract as manager without competitive bids. But after a series of embarrassing management lapses at Los Alamos, the Department of Energy announced it would seek bids when the management contract expired this September.
Livermore's contract also expires this fall and is headed for the bid process, but the government has indicated it will extend that contract for two years.
UC regents voted in January to submit a bid for its third national lab, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Lawrence Berkeley conducts unclassified research and has been part of the UC system since the 1930s.
Foley said he expects a decision on the Lawrence Berkeley contract soon. He said the government won't say whether there are other competitors.
In the Los Alamos competition, Foley said it's likely there will be at least one bidder, probably a consortium of academic and industrial partners.